I was a little surprised to get my Straight Dope email this morning featuring instructions on how to launder money, in light of how threads about anything marginally illegal are closed (like P2P, which isn’t even illegal) so quickly.
Legally, is there more liability from a hosted message board thread than from a column/blog?
I would imagine that Ed can run the published column by a legal expert before publishing or can leave out some important detail (like maybe all the techniques he described are out of date and well known to law enforcement). It would be impractical to run every post in thread on P2P by a lawyer, so they make a blanket rule. They may even have insurance on the Reader staff (which would include Cecil) in case someone accuses them of libel or such. I doubt the insurance company would cover them for what a bunch of anonymous blokes on the interweb say, though.
I guess my imagination is more cynical because my bet would be that because Ed and the Chicago Reader make their money off of producing “Intellectual material” they have more of a personal bias against the copyright infringement over money laundering.
The column discusses how money laundering occurs, but it is not intended as a “how to” on breaking the law.
A thread on how to break the law (by, for example, illegally sharing copyrighted material) is not viewed as a simple explanation to satisfy a curious mind, but rather a potential attempt to aid an illegal action.
Much of that article read like it was lifted straight out of the AML (Anti-Money Laundering) and CTR / SAR (Currency Transaction Reporting and Suspicious Activity Reporting) certifications I had to take for work a while ago.
In other words, it’s not exactly state secrets, nor is it a cookbook on exactly how to do it.
The money laundering column was purposely written at a high level. It does not provide practical instructions on how to launder money. The sorts of things we take with issue with at the SDMB, such as discussions of P2P, in our view are far more likely to lead to illegal acts.
Actually, I was wondering the same thing about this article and came in here to ask.
I asked a question about marijuana in General Questions (I can’t remember the title, but something along the lines of “how/where would one buy some”, in reference to a chronically ill patient who doesn’t have access to medical marijuana.
Anyway, it was closed, and I didn’t complain, mainly because I thought it skirted the legal boundaries of the rules. However, I don’t know anything about the illegal drug world, and I don’t see a difference between the two questions. Could Cecil answer the question? No one on the board offered to sell pot, seeds, or anything related, nor were there any tidbits in the thread to help anyone.
Considering that marijuana is supposed to be the largest cash crop in California (the second being grapes), I don’t think information about pot is exactly exposing “state secrets” either. For someone like me, learning about it is interesting… just as interesting as money laundering.
What’s the rule here? If I asked “How could I buy pot in zipcode 00000, meet me at the McDonald’s on Main Street”, that’s going to be pulled. But a general question about medical marijuana procurment from a broad view? It’s just information, probably published on the web in a bunch of places. How is answering this without specifics any different than the money laundering article? If I actually money launder, I’m guilty of a crime… just as if I buy pot from a guy on a street corner. Yes?
I think that if you asked Uncle Cece a question along the lines of “Since marijuana cultivation and possession is a violation of federal law, how do patients who use it to counteract symptoms obtain it?”, you would quite possibly get an answer. The answer would be in the form of an article, and the article would be couched in general terms. That way, medical marijuana user A would not be able to take the article and go out and locate a supply of marijuana for medicinal use.
The indication from Ed Zotti is that this is somewhat the thinking that went into the article on money laundering. Those who were helping put it together (and presumably Ed when doing the editing of the article) were aware that they had to be careful that the article did not offer up a “how to” of money laundering. Instead, it was a generalized piece about the subject of money laundering.
Now, jump over to our message board. Suppose you open a thread about medical marijuana. You make certain in your OP to state specifically that you do NOT want the thread to enter into the arena of offering advice on how to circumvent marijuana laws with any specificity. You are simply interested in a discussion of the general methods used to obtain medical marijuana.
What do YOU think is the likelihood that the discussion will stay as focused and “proper” as an edited article can? Prediction: within a very few posts, someone will stray into murky waters, putting the Board at risk, etc. So the moderators/administrators are much less likely to allow a message board discussion of the concept.
Which doesn’t preclude you from asking for a Straight Dope article on the subject.
And if Ed or Cecil is reading this, I would love to see an article from Cecil based on your question! With your permission, I will cut and paste it and send it in.
I’m not looking for a debate, and I’m not saying the mods were overstepping when they closed my original thread. In fact, I believe I wrote in my initial OP that if it crossed the legal comfort zone of the board, I understood that it would be locked. Locking a thread is always within the rights of the board and mods.
But I’ll ask this in a different way. Even if actual information was given in an article by Cecil, a staff report, or a poster on the board, why would the Reader and/or the board be liable for anything? Take for example the book “Hitman”, which is a how-to book about becoming a paid assassin. The book is pretty detailed, and can be found on the web with ease. (The original publisher gave up all rights to the book after a lawsuit). As I understand it, no law is broken until someone actually kills someone, and the posting of any “how to” is just that… a posting of information. I don’t believe (and I’ll leave it to the legal minds to confirm) that a website posting the text of Hitman would be liable for any actions committed by someone who read the text from that website.
I guess the real question is, if the board is not advocating criminal activity, participating in the sale of (in the case of pot) seeds, pot or anything illegal, but just providing information, is that against the law?
FYI, you do not need the permission of anyone on this message board to send a mail to Cecil and ask a question. Cecil will either answer it or not, depending on whether he thinks it has merit, whether it’s interesting enough for him, his schedule, and other factors which are unknown to me.
It is also possible he may ask a member of the SDSAB to field it for him if he doesn’t want to answer it, or one may volunteer.
Keep in mind there are a LOT of questions sent in, and even if your question has much merit, it could be some time before it gets answered.
The Internet being what it is, a lot of the legal issues that come up on the SDMB have to do with intellectual property, copyright violations, etc. The Straight Dope is constantly being pirated. If we’re going to go after other people for stealing our stuff, we can’t very well look the other way when the conversation veers in that direction on the SDMB. We don’t object to general discussions of file sharing and so on, but as has already mentioned, it’s very easy in a thread like that for someone to start giving detailed instructions, to which we would certainly object. So we tend to keep a close rein on such discussions.
Our objection to too-detailed discussion of other illegal activity is more philosophical. The law gives message board operators pretty broad protection against acts by posters, so we probably wouldn’t get into trouble if people posted instructions on how to obtain illegal drugs. We just don’t want to run that kind of message board. Again, we don’t object to general discussions of the subject, but we’d keep a close eye lest things take a wrong turn.
In regards to the OP and others, lawyers cost money. Lots of money. I seriously doubt that Cecil and Ed consult a lawyer every time they publish a column. In fact, I’m guessing that they only even consider talking to a lawyer if the column contains questionable content (and even then I would say they probably ditch the content first if it’s potentially “risky”).
Seriously, lawyers cost lots of money. And litigation (or even talking about litigation) costs lots and lots of money.
Also, by having strict rules against anything on these boards that may be considered to contain “risky” language or content they (a) save money on lawyers and (b) make it easier to moderate.